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As one of the area’s major health care systems, NorthShore University HealthSystem naturally employs a number of physicians across its nine hospitals.
But employment does not stop there, pointed out Douglas Silverstein, addressing members of the city’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) at their Jan. 26 meeting. Silverstein is President of Evanston Hospital, one of the original members of the NorthShore group.
Beyond doctors, he said, “there are many, many positions, and we are excited about getting people positions in health information technology, in finance, people who want to be chefs, people who want to be plumbers or electricians, people who want to be nurses or CNAs [certified nursing assistants].
“There are so many different places where people can go,” he said, “and we have positions in almost every one of those areas.”
At the meeting, NorthShore officials sought city support to develop a health care workforce pipeline to eventually fill some of those positions.
NorthShore, with corporate offices in Evanston, is requesting the city allocate $200,000 from federal American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) COVID-19 recovery funds to match NorthShore’s proposed $200,000 investment.
The $400,000 would be used to launch the ASPIRE Evanston Community Healthcare Workforce Development Program, designed to develop “a workforce pipeline, to invest in students and young adults within the Evanston community and provide them with opportunities,” said Paul Zalmezak, the city’s Economic Development Manager, in a memo explaining the program.
The NorthShore team has hosted numerous meetings over the past several months and collaborated with a number of organizations to develop the plan, Zalmezak’s memo said. The groups include the City of Evanston, Evanston Township High School, District 65, the Youth Job Center, Mayor’s Employer Advisory Council, YWCA, Powell WE Program, Oakton Community College and Cradle to Career.
The hospital system currently has 1,300 job openings throughout its system, Silverstein reported at the meeting.
Retirements, an aging baby boom population, pandemic resignations and labor force training deficiencies are contributing to the large number of openings, Zalmezak said.
At the meeting, held virtually, Silverstein told EDC members, “I think a lot of people know that people are leaving the health care arena in droves. And so there is an amazing number of positions – on-the-job training jobs, certification jobs and degree jobs.”
If approved, officials would take a number of steps to create the program, which would have its own coordinator, Zalmezak said.
Components of the effort include:
- Launching health care careers for 11th and 12th graders through career exploration opportunities, such as career fairs and job shadowing – with elementary school grades to be included in future phases of the program.
- Providing opportunities for career acceleration through internships, certification programs and scholarships.
- Expanding health care opportunities for the City of Evanston and the broader community for those 18 to 30 years of age.
The possibility of a career
Samir Desai, Vice President of Talent Management and Organization Development for NorthShore, told EDC members that “it’s important that somebody has an entry-level job, but they [participants] have meaningful careers that they can be inspired and aspire to.”
Desai said there is a large pool of people in Evanston looking for opportunities and a need to match them to opportunities. “And it requires intention and requires investment, and that’s what we’re looking at doing here,” he said.
Silverstein offered as an example someone who might initially want to become a Certified Nurse Assistant.
“But once they get into our system, and we’re able to get them that type of position, and they decide they want to be a nurse, we have the ability to help them with tuition assistance and things that we have that are already part of our system to help them on their career path to a next step,” Silverstein said. “So we have avenues to help people once they take that first step to help them in their career path into many other types of roles as well.”
Resident questions NorthShore’s need for city support
During citizen comment earlier in the meeting, Trisha Connelly, a local activist, questioned whether the city should be contributing to the project.
“And my concern is that NorthShore actually is in a position where I don’t think they need our money. And the reason is that they are now the third-largest health system in Illinois. And they have an expected annual revenue of $5 billion, based on their mergers, after eating up several hospitals over the last couple of years,” Connelly said.
In January NorthShore completed a merger with Edward-Elmhurst Health.
“So the question is, ‘Do we need to give them money to do a program to have them get more employees?’” Connelly said. “I think it would be great if they want to be our partner and help our community in getting people the training they need.”
City staff and EDC members, on the other hand, spoke enthusiastically about the effort’s potential benefits.
Nathan Norman, the city’s new Workforce Development Coordinator, said he liked the program’s expanded scope.
“We have a lot of emphasis placed on young people in our community from 14 to 18, as we already know,” he said to EDC members, “and I think that one of the things that’s unique about this is that we’re placing an emphasis on the 18-to-30 range, which is really, really needed in our community.”
Council member: Program ‘connects the dots’
EDC member and Fifth Ward Council member Bobby Burns spoke of the role institutions like NorthShore play in the stability of a community.
He said, “We talk a lot in Evanston about the affordability issue. And something I’ve tried to bring up over the last few months is that historically in Evanston, there were a lot of jobs, both city jobs and careers of work from hospitals and other institutions that truly employed the community and created a strong middle class that led to strong African American homeownership and other things that that rivaled areas like Beverly on the South Side or other strong kind of working middle-class areas.”
EDC and Council member Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said the program is in line with what the city has been striving for.
“We have been talking about workforce development for a long time on the council,” she said.
“And this connects the dots in terms of what we know makes a successful Workforce Development Program, which is connecting people to the training and then to a career path. And so this idea that we are channeling people into health care or all of the assorted types of jobs that exist at a large institution, as Mr. Silverstein was saying – plumbers, electricians, HVAC. Those are skills that are portable as well. So I am very excited about this.”
She and other EDC members voted unanimously in favor of the allocation of $200,000 in ARPA funds, sending the issue to the full council, which has final say on approval.